An American Werewolf in London

Two backpackers walk into a bar…wait, this isn’t the premise of a joke. It’s this twosome in An American Werewolf in London, friends Jack and David, who are cold and hungry and looking for sustenance at The Slaughtered Lamb pub.

In-group out-group dynamics send the men packing, but not before this warning from the unfriendly denizens: beware of the moors.

Rattled, the guys take off on foot, and out of the shadows emerges a giant, furry, clawed beast.

Jack is mauled. David survives, confined to a London hospital bed (hence the title of the film) and he’s none the worse for ware, save for a few scratches.

After (more than) hitting it off with a tending nurse, and ending up back at her place, he starts to feel strange symptoms. But this isn’t because of an STD. It’s the first signs he’s about to transform.

The effects come courtesy of the guru himself, Rick Baker, and boy are they spectacular. The muscles spasms, the jutting snout, the newfound taste for red meat…

It’s a toss up as to what’s the best modern werewolf horror. Obviously, you’d have to give nods to Wolfen, The Howling and Ginger Snaps, but perhaps the most spirited and best-paced is An American Werewolf in London, comedy director John Landis’ foray into the horror genre.

Dressed to Kill

With two marquee stars dispatched by cross-dressers wielding knives in close quarters, the Psycho parallels are obvious.

Dressed to Kill has a denouement that was obvious too, but critics brushed it aside, as De Palma demonstrated as he often does, that visual style can carry the day and more than make up for a lot of flaws (he’s a bit like Argento in that respect).

Kate (Angie Dickinson) is frustrated by her two-pump chump of a hubby. In a protracted therapy session with psychiatrist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) she propositions him, only to be rejected.

At New York City’s Met, she connects with a mysterious stranger, in an elaborate labyrinthine courtship through the museums’ many galleries, eventually hooking up with him in a yellow cab and going back to his place. In the morning, the suitor’s bolted, and she follows suit shortly thereafter, but there’s a mysterious figure with a switch blade waiting in the condo elevator.

A high-priced call girl (Robocop’s Nancy Allan) who happens upon the vicious murder scene (one of the best he’s ever filmed, according to the director). Despite lacking a motive, she becomes the first and obvious suspect, when she’s fingered by cleaning staff.¬†And that’s where the real fun begins.

Marino (Dennis Franz, in the first of one of seemingly countless cop roles he’s done throughout the decades) is the wise-ass NYPD investigator. And the son of the deceased, a crack engineering whiz-cum-inventor, features prominently.

De Palma is at his “Hitchiest” here, with themes of voyeurism, two-timing, and blurring moral distinctions (and in a sense, toward the end, Hitchcock was becoming more like De Palma, especially with Frenzy, as censorship eased in his native Britain).

There are few directors audacious enough to film pivotal scenes without dialogue for 20-25 minutes at a time, or to bait the audience with heavy character investment when a lead is not long for this world.

***3/4 (out of 5)